The Steelers Search for QB1: Part I: The Flaws of the 2022 NFL Draft Top 5 QBs

By Jeremy Hritz

This is part 1 of a 7 part series taking an in-depth look at the top-5 quarterback prospects in this year’s draft, analyzing everything from their strengths, weaknesses, college and high school statistics, and much, much more. As the Pittsburgh Steelers seemed primed more than ever to draft a quarterback in the first round, the more informed we can be about this class, the better.

Monday, 4/11/22: Part I: The Flaws of the 2022 NFL Draft Top 5 QBs

Tuesday, 4/12/22: Part II: The Strengths of the 2022 NFL Draft Top 5 QBs

Wednesday, 4/13/22: Part III: College Statistical Analysis of the 2022 NFL Draft Top 5 QBs

Thursday, 4/14/22: Part IV: High School Statistical Analysis of the 2022 NFL Draft Top 5 QBs

Friday, 4/15/22: V: Synthesizing the Data/Observations Into a Categorical Analysis of the 2022 NFL Draft Top 5 QBs

Saturday, 4/16/22: The Steel Study 2022 NFL Draft Top 5 QB Rankings

Sunday, 4/17/22: Hritz Mock Draft 5.0

Part 1: The Flaws of the 2022 NFL Draft Top 5 QBs

Yes, you should always begin with the positive, but I am not going to do that today, as much in-depth analysis of this year’s top-5 draft-eligible QBs begins with those criticisms that are most prominent about the player. I take a look at drawbacks to provide a complete picture of their basis, and whether or not they are a) accurate b) indicative of the player not succeeding in the NFL. 

Malik Willis: Inconsistent, Inaccurate, and Inexperienced

We begin with Malik Willis, who has the most promise of the top-5, but also the most uncertainty, due to questions about his inconsistency, inaccuracy, and inexperience. The combination of purely desirable traits such as phenomenal arm strength, speed and explosiveness, and escapability, in addition to the earlier mentioned negatives, make Willis the ultimate in boom-or-bust potential. 

Willis is somewhat of a streaky passer, who, if not in a rhythm, can be off-target with his throws, leading to the inaccuracy he is often criticized for. Additionally, in looking at his statistical outputs in his 2 seasons as a starter at Liberty, his passing numbers aren’t exactly impressive, failing to throw for over 3000 yards, though he did rush for over 870 yards in the last two seasons. Several elements can be pointed to as the cause for his inaccuracy, including shoddy throwing mechanics and an undeveloped skill in progressing through his reads in a timely fashion. However, you can also point to a well-below average offensive line that would make last year’s Steelers OL look like All-Pros as hindering Willis’ performance. 

There is also the question of Willis’ experience, starting with the questions of why he did not earn a starting role at Auburn, and only did so at the smaller school of Liberty. Had Willis competed against SEC talent and performed as he did at Liberty where he started, there would be fewer questions about whether or not he can translate to the NFL. Additionally, Willis was only a starter for two seasons which can be looked at as a strength (plenty of room to develop), or a weakness (lack of experience leads to longer time to adapt/learn NFL game).

Despite these questions, teams seem to feel comfortable enough with them, including the Steelers, to make him the first QB off the board in 2021.

Kenny Pickett: Ceiling Reached, Too Old

Listen to analysts talk about Kenny Pickett, and you think they were talking about an octogenarian. Sure, he is the elder statesman of the group and will be 24 in June, but let’s not be in a rush to put him into an assisted living facility just yet. Quarterbacks in today’s league play well into their 30s, if not 40s (see Tom Brady, Drew Brees), and there is plenty of time for Pickett to develop and perform at a high-level in the NFL. Additionally, while age is not always an indicator of maturity, he will be less likely to make immature decisions that sometimes plague younger players.

Another argument against Pickett as a potential selection is that he has capped out in terms of his potential, arguing that he is at his peak of play. If you take a look at Pickett’s collegiate statistics, you can see a slow pattern of improvement, with a surge in his senior season in terms of statistical output. With 5 years of experience in college, not much will surprise him, as he also played in a Pro Style offense, but critics believe he can improve only minimally over what his current output is. 

Desmond Ridder: Unnecessary Deficiencies After 4 Years As Starter, Inaccuracy

Desmond Ridder has a lot of supporters (including me), but he also has his fair share of critics. He is becoming a polarizing prospect, as Mark Kaboly of The Athletic recently had the Steelers trading back into round 1 to claim Ridder in his mock draft, while Dave Bryan of Steelers Depot argues that the Steelers should stay away from Ridder at 20. While the truth is always somewhere in the middle, Ridder gets hammered because of the flaws that remain in his game after 4 years as a starter, in addition to uneven accuracy. 

In terms of the deficiencies still in his game 4-years later, the tape points to misses on passes that should be routine, such as short-to-intermediate throws that don’t require a significant effort. There is also the inefficient throwing motion on his deep passes that provides defenders too much time to get to him, resulting in batted passes, inaccurate passes, and at worst, turnovers. You could argue that NFL coaching can ameliorate these struggles, but many believe “he is what he is.”

The same goes for his accuracy, as the argument goes it is something that cannot be taught; however, we only need be reminded of Josh Allen and his abhorrent completion percentage in college and how he has evolved into one of the most accurate and effective passers in the NFL. 

Matt Corrall: Durability, Played in an Oversimplified Offense

If there is a quarterback who is the most accurate of the group, it is Matt Corrall. Yet when considering Corrall’s frame, recklessness as a ball carrier, there is concern whether or not he can hold up in the NFL. At 6’2, 212 against NFL defenders, holding up against the stressors and physicality of the pro game is critical, and whether or not Corrall can do that will be a question that will stick with him until he proves it to be a non-issue. While many QBs who were smaller were able to have successful NFL careers, it is an unknown if Corrall can do it as a mobile, run-capable QB. 

The other knock on Corrall is that he played in a very basic offense at Ole Miss that did not require a sophisticated level of processing and reads. But should this be held against Corrall? College is college, and the NFL is the NFL. Until he gets an opportunity to assert himself and learn a professional-style offense and then execute it on the field, judgment should be withheld. To assume that just because he has not operated in such a system does not mean he will fail in that type of offense. It is just a question that will need to be answered. 

Sam Howell: Awareness in Pocket, Deep Passes Sail at Times

Sam Howell, from high school all the way through college, is the most prolific and productive quarterback of this class. However, he has documented issues in terms of his pocket presence, which can be attributed to lack of decisiveness at times, in addition to his deep passes hanging too long when descending from the peak of the arc. Both of these challenges can result in both pressure and unnecessary sacks and also receivers waiting for the ball and easy targets for interceptions. 

Howell was sacked 117 times while in college, many of which can be attributed to holding on to the football for too long and not feeling the pending pressure. He will need to improve his anticipation and ability to be more comfortable and confident in getting rid of the football faster and making snap decisions about where he wants to go with the football. Some of this can be attributed to his desire to make the play down the field, but he has to learn to live to fight another day.

In terms of his sometimes floating deep ball, his mechanics must be honed in and tightened up to both more quickly get rid of the football and also employ a fluid motion utilizing his legs and hips that results in a more natural, powerful throw that sustains its velocity as opposed to one that is the result of too much emphasis on the upper body.

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